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“Tribalism Vs Moral Imagination”: The Two Stories Of America On Display In This Election

From Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview with President Obama, I’ve already written about how he isn’t enamored with “free riders” and how his foreign policy is a challenge to the Washington playbook. The president also talked about how tribalism is the root of the problem in the Middle East right now.

One of the most destructive forces in the Middle East, Obama believes, is tribalism—a force no president can neutralize. Tribalism, made manifest in the reversion to sect, creed, clan, and village by the desperate citizens of failing states, is the source of much of the Muslim Middle East’s problems, and it is another source of his fatalism. Obama has deep respect for the destructive resilience of tribalism—part of his memoir, Dreams From My Father, concerns the way in which tribalism in post-colonial Kenya helped ruin his father’s life—which goes some distance in explaining why he is so fastidious about avoiding entanglements in tribal conflicts.

“It is literally in my DNA to be suspicious of tribalism,” he told me. “I understand the tribal impulse, and acknowledge the power of tribal division. I’ve been navigating tribal divisions my whole life. In the end, it’s the source of a lot of destructive acts.”

Tribalism isn’t merely a phenomenon in the Middle East. It is also obviously animating the “white nostalgia” of Trump’s supporters. We’ve seen similar reactions in Europe. So it’s interesting to contemplate what is driving all this.

Following President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 2009, he was interviewed by Will and Jada Smith and discussed our options to the fact that – due to advances in technology – the world is shrinking.

In response to globalization, we can either pull back into our own identities (race, tribe, religion) or we can work to expand our moral imagination. The latter is why the President so often talks about expanding our definition of “we.” In the context of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, that is not merely a call to do so across the lines of race, class, religion in this country – but to expand our moral imagination to encompass the world of a young mother in Bangladesh.

As President Obama said, to retreat into tribalism at this moment is dangerous. While the forces of a changing America and increasing globalization are unsettling and challenging, it is a recipe for disaster to simply identify with those who think/look like ourselves and draw battle lines with those who don’t. The goal is not to assume we can all agree with each other on everything – but to be able to see and value the humanity of those with whom we don’t.

As Jon Favreau wrote recently: “Every election is a competition between two stories about America.” Right now, one of those stories is about tribalism – the need to “take our country back” to a mythological day when a lot of white people assume that things were better. That story rests on demonizing, expelling and/or punishing those who are blamed for the changes that we don’t like.

The other story is the one President Obama is talking about…the potential we have to expand our moral imagination. That is not some ideal that humans are incapable of reaching. We see people do it every day. And it is old enough to be embedded in every major religion as something resembling the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here is how Barack Obama spelled it out in his speech back in 2004 that brought him into the national spotlight.

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.

The story of this election isn’t so much about the fact that people are angry – it is about what we chose to do with that anger. Do we retreat into tribalism in the face of these challenges or do we work to expand our moral imagination?

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 14, 2016

March 17, 2016 Posted by | Globalization, Tribalism, White Nostalgia | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Off We Go, Into The New Year”: Where Each Of Us Will Have The Chance To Do Better

After a certain age, favorite holiday memories tend to meld into tales too good to be true. This is human nature. We want to believe we’re better than the evidence suggests. This is a good habit of our species, especially at the end of this year, in which we’ve seen so much of the worst in us.

There is no such thing as perfection whenever we add memories of past holiday experiences to the combustible mix of family and friends. Add booze and a couple of sturdy grudges and Grey Gardens has nothing over the drama unfolding in front of us as we shake our heads.

Nevertheless, with the passage of time, we will yet again enshrine these get-togethers as something magical. This speaks to something good in us. Most of us want to be people who love people, so we manage the willpower to love even the people who get on our last nerve. Which at least one of them surely will; we just know it.

You will note that I am laying blame elsewhere for all that might annoy us this holiday season. I employ this nifty trick of memory so that, at least for the duration of this column, we can all feel superior and terribly misunderstood. My gift to you. Merry Christmas, if you celebrate. Otherwise: Happy Solstice Week. Be sure to look out the window tomorrow morning. Already, the darkness is ending a teensy bit sooner.

This has been a rough year in our lives, even if we harbor no personal grievance because of what is churning out there all around us. Just this once, let’s not rattle off the list. Many of us will continue to stake out our own little patches of righteousness, but this is the time of year when we should at least try to acknowledge the truth of the matter: We are all in this together.

Former astronaut John Glenn, a dear friend, once described for me what it was like to hover 150 miles above the Earth and get a good look at the rest of us:

“On a map, every nation has a different color,” he said. “Well, the Earth looks much different from space. You realize our borders are so artificial. Some are political; some have developed along ethnic lines. But all those lines disappear when you’re looking down from space. And you can’t help but see all that we have in common and think about how much we foul things up by focusing on our differences rather than our sameness.”

I don’t expect us to link arms and sing to the heavens. For one thing, there’d be that unpleasant argument over which version of heaven and another over whose version of God would be listening. And that’s just among the believers.

Pass.

Instead, I ask that, in the spirit of the season, we pause to consider what we still have in common with one another. It’s there, in every single person we can imagine.

I know, I know. Work through the wince. Breathe.

Three days before Christmas, I was about to start dinner, when my friend Jackie called. She and her wife, Kate, live just down the street.

“Go to the Square,” she said.

“Why?” I asked as I shut off the burner.

“I’m not telling you. Just go — and bring your camera.”

My husband and I threw on our jackets and began the short walk to the community park that greets everyone who enters our neighborhood in Cleveland.

Dozens of luminarias flickered on the ground around the gazebo. Two deer ventured forth as we walked among the lights and offered nods to the fat moon competing for attention.

I loved watching neighbors pulling in to the development after a long day at work and slowing their cars to a crawl to take in the sight of this unexpected kindness. I have no idea which neighbors made the effort to do this, but I know we need more people like them. I am grateful for the reminder that small gestures can ignite big hopes and that there are many ways to light the darkness.

To those who don’t celebrate Christmas, thank you for putting up with those of us who do. If you are struggling right now, may the holiday land gently.

Off we go, into the new year, where each of us will have the chance to do better.

 

By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, December 24, 2015

December 26, 2015 Posted by | Christmas, Holiday Season, New Years | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Sinful Tendency To Pervert Faith”: Pope Francis’ Familiar Denunciation Of ‘Ideological Extremism’

It’s hard to overstate just how furious conservatives were in February after hearing President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. I’ll be curious to see how many of them are equally livid with Pope Francis today.

Nearly eight months ago, the president noted that while many faith communities around the world are “inspiring people to lift up one another,” we also see “faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge – or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.” The president explained that no faith tradition is immune and every religion, including his own, has chapters its adherents are not proud of.

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” he said. “And lest we [Christians] get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ…. So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”

Conservatives, quite content atop their high horse, were disgusted. Just this week, we saw Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) continue to whine about the Prayer Breakfast remarks, pointing the speech as evidence of the president serving as an “apologist for radical Islamic terrorists.”

But take a moment to consider what Pope Francis said this morning during his address to Congress.

“Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.”

In U.S. News, Gary Emerling noted, “The pontiff said all religions are susceptible to extremism and violence, just like Obama said in February.” I heard it the exact same way.

In fact, as best as I can tell, when Pope Francis said that “no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism,” the only difference between this sentiment and Obama’s in February is that the president bolstered his point with examples.

Will the right lambaste Francis with equal vigor? Somehow I doubt it, but if readers see any examples of this, I hope you’ll let me know.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 25, 2015

September 26, 2015 Posted by | Faith, Ideological Extremism, Pope Francis | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Christmas Sermon On Peace”: Martin Luther King, Jr, 1967

This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war and so let us this morning explore the conditions for peace. Let us this morning think anew on the meaning of that Christmas hope: “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.” And as we explore these conditions, I would like to suggest that modern man really go all out to study the meaning of nonviolence, its philosophy and its strategy.

We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States, but now the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas of human conflict, and that means nonviolence on an international scale.

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.

Yes, as nations and individuals, we are interdependent. I have spoken to you before of our visit to India some years ago. It was a marvelous experience; but I say to you this morning that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with one’s own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with ones own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night? More than a million people sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay every night; more than half a million sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night. They have no houses to go into. They have no beds to sleep in. As I beheld these conditions, something within me cried out: “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh, no!” And I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars every day to store surplus food; and I said to myself: “I know where we can store that food free of charge, in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in our own nation, who go to bed hungry at night.”

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Now let me say, secondly, that if we are to have peace in the world, men and nations must embrace the nonviolent affirmation that ends and means must cohere. One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.

So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? They may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

It’s one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such. Until men see this everywhere, until nations see this everywhere, we will be fighting wars. One day somebody should remind us that, even though there may be political and ideological differences between us, the Vietnamese are our brothers, the Russians are our brothers, the Chinese are our brothers; and one day we’ve got to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. But in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. In Christ there is neither male nor female. In Christ there is neither Communist nor capitalist. In Christ, somehow, there is neither bound nor free. We are all one in Christ Jesus. And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won’t kill anybody.

There are three words for “love” in the Greek New Testament; one is the word “eros.” Eros is a sort of esthetic, romantic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. And there is and can always be something beautiful about eros, even in its expressions of romance. Some of the most beautiful love in all of the world has been expressed this way.

Then the Greek language talks about “philia,” which is another word for love, and philia is a kind of intimate love between personal friends. This is the kind of love you have for those people that you get along with well, and those whom you like on this level you love because you are loved.

Then the Greek language has another word for love, and that is the word “agape.” Agape is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” And I’m happy that he didn’t say, “Like your enemies,” because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can’t like anybody who would bomb my home. I can’t like anybody who would exploit me. I can’t like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can’t like them. I can’t like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. And I think this is where we are, as a people, in our struggle for racial justice. We can’t ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship. We must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

I have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made smooth and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

 

By: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Dr. King first delivered this sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as co-pastor. On Christmas Eve, 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired this sermon as part of the seventh annual Massey Lectures

December 25, 2014 Posted by | Christmas, Martin Luther King Jr, Racial Justice | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Normalizing Illegal Behavior”: Why Are Torturers Being Given “Balance” In The Press?

After the publication of the torture report, the torturers and their enablers have been all over the airwaves defending themselves and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These “techniques” included horrific acts of rape, threatening family members with rape and death, suspension from ceilings and walls for days on end, forcing prisoners to soil themselves in diapers, and various forms of psychological torture including sleep and sensory deprivation. In many cases the people being tortured had done nothing wrong and had no information of value.

There is simply no defense for any of this. None. “It gave us actionable intelligence” isn’t a defense. It happens to be untrue. We know that torture doesn’t produce valuable information, and it didn’t produce valuable information in any of these cases, either. But it doesn’t matter if it worked or not. Cutting the hands off of thieves works wonders to reduce theft, but we don’t do that. A moral people does not do these things. “We’re not as bad they are” isn’t a defense, either. That’s not the standard by which a moral people judges itself–and besides, most of the rest of the industrialized world does hold itself to a higher standard, despite also being victimized by Islamist terror attacks.

This stuff is obvious. And yet the TV shows and newspaper stories are full of balance given to the pro-torture side. Why? Despite objections to the contrary, journalists do not always give balance to both sides of an argument if the other side is deemed irrelevant or depraved. Whenever the deficit bugbear rolls to the forefront, almost no balance is given to the Keynesian point of view despite their predictions being consistently correct: the idea that one needn’t actually cut the deficit during a recession is treated as so outre as to require no journalistic attention.

More pointedly, when journalists write about torture and depredations of current or former regimes, journalists don’t feel the need to get the torturers’ side of the story. No one is rushing to ask Assad’s torturers in Syria if their tactics are necessary to keep “terrorists” in check. No one is asking North Korean guards if their treatment of their people is OK because some other country is worse. No one rushes to counterbalance the accounts of Holocaust victims with the justifications of Nazi guards. It simply isn’t done, any more than we “balance” stories of child sexual abuse with a hot-take counterpoint from a member of NAMBLA. The reason we don’t provide “balance” in these cases is that to do so would be to normalize those behaviors as part of legitimate discourse.

So why in the world are the torturers who subjected innocent people to anal feedings and dungeon ceiling hangings given the courtesy of “balance” in the press? Where is the line that separates issues that require balance from those that do not?

In a decent moral universe, torturers don’t get the benefit of explaining themselves to the press any more than serial killers do, except potentially out of morbid curiosity.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 14, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Journalists, Media, Torture | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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